Christmas tree with Santa
A man dressed as Santa Claus stands among Christmas trees distributed by the Jerusalem municipality to Christian residents at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on December 20, 2018. / AFP / GALI TIBBON Image Credit: AFP

The advent of December brings with it many delectable smells and fond memories — the aroma of freshly-baked plum cakes, mothballed patchwork quilts, colourful greeting cards and that huge Christmas star that would light up our balcony of yore! The season of celebrations also brings to mind the snapshots of people who have touched our hearts and have forever ensconced themselves within us.

It was the last day before Christmas vacation and also as a teacher, in the school where I taught for eight years. As I walked in through the door of my class I knew that this was both an end and a beginning. I would go back to my writing, which I was so passionate about and this would be the last day with these children I considered “mine”. I was to teach the last creative writing lesson that day and I wanted it to linger in the minds of the children and inspire them to write. I put in many hours to prepare the last of lessons, honing each word with surgical precision.

The fourth-graders were jubilant as there was a Christmas party scheduled later during the day. The icebreaker was — “One question that I’d ask Santa”. The questions were so interesting and hilarious that I wondered why I did not think the way these children thought ... A child asked: “What if there was no chimney in a house, how would you manage to bring in the gifts, dear Santa?” Another quipped: “Do you spend the 364 days of the year planning and ordering gifts on Amazon (I saw the receipt last year, you forgot to remove it)? After an interesting writing class, the children dispersed for lunch. As I finished that last meal with my colleagues and was walking back to my class, another teacher asked me to stay with her class for a few minutes. I waited, impatient to go back and spend the last few moments with my children.

The teacher came back, apologised and rushed me across to my classroom and as I opened the door, all my 34 students shouted “surprise”! There were more decorations added to the ones that were already there. A huge card that said, “We will miss you. So, we ask Santa to return you to us,” signed by all the children. I was swept up in a tangle of little arms and led to a table heaped with gifts. I looked around the room and saw little Abraham sitting alone. It was not unusual, he was just back from the special education class.

His ill-fitting clothes and bony frame reflected that he wasn’t from a well-to-do family. He hunched over a piece of paper, his tiny crayon colouring it. His hand darted into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled Dh10 currency note. He smoothed the bill, laid it on the paper and folded the paper into an envelope around it. He took out a star sticker from his diary that was given to him by his SEN educator. This he treasured immensely and stuck it on the envelope. He then came towards me, his head bent low, he whispered: “Merry Christmas, you are the best teacher that I ever had.” For the first time, I saw him smile as his cheeks flushed.

I was left speechless. I knew that was the money given to him by his mother as she couldn’t afford to buy fancier snacks and the canteen food was a huge treat for him. I opened the envelope and there was a Christmas tree drawn on it. I did not have the heart to refuse the bill he gave me. But as I put his picture on top of the pile of other cards and the bill into my pocket, I said: “Come on Abraham let’s go to the canteen and buy your favourite sausage roll and ‘manakish’, I am a little hungry too. This is my treat!” His face shone with glee. He had sacrificed his lunch just for me and seemed famished!

In Abraham, I could see one of the Magis, he reflected the true spirit of Christmas, of joy, love and selflessness!

Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @navanitavp.